Some caption about Hangzhou

The reason Hangzhou Greentown will start this season in the Chinese Super League despite ending the 2009 season in one of the two relegation positions, is because of the determined drive against corruption currently taking place for the soul of Chinese football. Two of last season’s higher placed clubs Guangzhou and Chengdu have been relegated to the Second Division for acts of bribery of opponents in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, allowing Hangzhou to retain their place. Several prominent officials in the Chinese Football Association including a past President and two Vice Presidents have been arrested and many other Directors, managers and players are under investigation for a culture of corruption that seems to have been in place over the past few years. Some of the allegations would border on the comical if the malaise they represent was not so serious. The Chairman of one second division team has been arrested along with his team’s captain after he made an online in-game bet during one game that there would be an additional score. When with only moments of the game left his team had not obliged by scoring he sent a message to his players to contrive instead to lose a goal which they farcically tried but failed to do. That club Qingdao Hailifeng had also been found to have previously accepted bribes to lose games and they have now been completely dissolved by the Chinese authorities.

The latest twist in this anti-corruption saga came only the other day when three referees were arrested on charges of accepting bribes to influence matches. To widespread Chinese shock and shame the trio included the most famous and revered referee in Chinese football history Lu Juin who had enhanced the prestige of the whole nation by refereeing 2 games in the 2002 World Cup and was known as the Golden Whistler because of his renown and integrity. Sources within the Chinese Prosecutors Office have let it be known that if Lu Juin and his colleagues are found to be guilty they will ask for the death penalty, and there is a fair chance this request will be granted, such is the government determination to end football corruption completely.

There have been millions of football supporters throughout the world who have felt various referees have deserved the maximum penalty for their incompetence or their corruption but it is a sobering thought that a state might actually carry out such a punishment for a football related offence. It would certainly bring a new twist to Bill Shankly’s famous dictum about football not being a matter of life or death. GGW will continue to monitor the Chinese fight against corruption and report on progress.